Friday, 28 October 2011
While I was making this popcorn, I had a documentary playing on my laptop: Origins of Us - Guts, a BBC program about the evolution of humans. This episode focused on how our diet shaped our evolution. I won't go into the details (and I'm sure some of you don't agree with some of the theories) but a few of the ideas they pulled out of the science were interesting in a wider sense.
One of their conclusions: it was cooking that made us human.
There is something so elemental about preparing food to eat and nourishing yourself, day after day. The pleasure from eating a hot meal when you're hungry runs very deep.
As someone interested in preparing food, the idea that cooking and not just eating is fundamental to our existence is attractive and makes sense - but I suspect to others it might not. Making food by hand is no longer a key element of many lives and that is a choice we are all free to make - after all, they say it made us human, not that it makes us human. I find joy and satisfaction in the kitchen and in preparing three simple meals a day, but that is me. It's not my place to say if it is right or wrong that as a culture we've shifted away from preparing food ourselves, but I can say that I feel that it is an important part of my life and I am lucky enough to have the resources and time to do so.
The program also touched on the importance of sharing food in forming and sustaining relationships. Now I cook mainly for myself (I share out my baking as much as I can, but I cook alone - I need to get some dinner parties going), I miss the feeling of sharing out something I have made and feeding friends.
So once my popcorn had cooled, I split it up, put it in plastic bags, wrapped them in brown paper and posted them to the people I miss being sat around the dinner table with. I'm hoping they won't receive a packet of dust & that this post won't have ruined the surprise. I wish I could have sent something savoury and hearty, like a big lasagne, but sadly it doesn't post well.
Popping popcorn is incredibly satisfying, especially in a pan instead of a microwave - I really recommend it. I can see myself making lots of simpler batches of buttered popcorn when the mood strikes.
My pan didn't have a lid so I suspended a frying pan over the top. I had to essentially hug the pan to keep things in place. The suspense as I stood there waiting for the kernels to start popping was hilarious - I had no idea if they would get through the gap, or what force they would have when they hit the lid.
I looked at quite a few recipes for the caramel part but Molly's interested me most. I changed the corn syrup for golden syrup. The baking dries everything out and gives a great crunch. Don't skip the salt, though you could reduce it if you like.
The best part is that this popcorn truly tastes of deep caramel, not just sugar. It's rich, slightly smoky, a bit salty and quite addictive.
(Adapted from Orangette and Simply Recipes)
For the corn:
3 tbsp peanut/canola/sunflower oil
75g popping corn
For the caramel:
180g brown sugar
70ml golden syrup
90g unsalted butter
2 tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
Grease a big mixing bowl lightly. Place the oil into a big pan (it needs to have a lid, or something you can use as a lid). Heat over medium high heat. When it's warmed, add 3-4 kernels into the oil and cover. Once they pop, sprinkle the remaining kernels into the pan in an even layer and cover again. Take off the heat and count 30 seconds. Return to the heat. Once they start to pop, shake gently side to side. Keep the lid down but try to leave a little gap/hole so that some steam is let out. Once the popping has died down to less than once a second, take the lid off and tip all the popped kernels into the big bowl.
Preheat the oven to 120C/250F. Line a tin with some parchment paper. Put the sugar, syrup, butter and water together in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, whisk together. Keep heating until it reaches 120C/250F then remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the vanilla. Finally add the bicarbonate and whisk in again - it will foam up a little and look dull instead of shiny. Pour over the popcorn in the greased bowl and use a spatula to fold it all in and combine.
Tip out onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the fleur de sel and fold lightly through. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, turning at 20 minutes. Cool.
(Makes a big bowlful - I couldn't possibly say how many people it serves!)